I had a friend message me recently – she was having a crappy day and needed someone to talk to.
She’d been with a group of mums, and one mum mentioned she was having a rough time with her little ones, especially during the night time. This mum was asking for help. She needed advice and she needed reassurance.
Another mum responded and told her that as long as the babies needs have been met, if they are still crying, don’t worry, they will be fine and the sooner that is learnt that the faster they will self settle.
This mum then looked at my friend for her opinion too. Now, my mate is a strong confident woman, but in this situation, she wouldn’t usually speak up.
This time was different. She told that struggling mum ‘sometimes that’s not enough, sometimes they need snuggles too . . . do what feels right for you’.
And then she worried, because while she had given what I think is bloody brilliant advice, she had gone against the ‘norm’ and spoken up, promoting a different, gentle style of night time parenting.
Another friend was recently at dinner with people who have a young baby and the mum was trying to get baby off to sleep. Bub wasn’t having a bar of it, no way. Eventually the mum came out of the room, looking frazzled and sat back down, trying to block out the crying and converse with her guests.
My friend sat there, wanting to say something but not feeling like she could. She felt more and more uncomfortable as the baby continued to cry, that she spoke up and asked the mum if it was okay to help. It was.
She then went into the room, picked up the crying babe and rocked him, patted him, shushed him and cuddled him until finally he drifted off to sleep.
I have found myself in similar situations since I have become a parent. Situations where someone is asking for help or advice, especially around night time sleeping (or lack of) and I felt like I had to be quiet with my ‘alternative’ ways.
I’ve wanted to tell these mum that babies needs do not change at night. That babies need us just as much all night long, as they do all day long. That they are not being difficult or being bad. They are just being babies.
But no other comments or responses are along those lines. Instead a mum is told that her baby must be a bad sleeper, that this is terrible and of course you need to fix it.
She is told that she needs to be harder, needs to be firmer. Stay strong, don’t give in. Show that baby who is boss.
So I wimp out and don’t say anything at all. I feel at times like it is so acceptable to promote a ‘don’t let them win’ style of parenting, but if you promote a ‘your child is bloody crying, give them a hug’ style instead . . . people don’t respond as well.
I feel the odd one out and so I stay quiet. And I feel stink.
Why is there one accepted standard for parenting during the day, and another for parenting during the night.
During the day if you reach for your baby as soon as they cry you are doing the right thing, but if you do it at night you are ‘teaching them to manipulate you’.
During the day pushing a baby in a pram to get them to sleep during the day is so normal we make a coffee date out of it, but boobing you child to sleep at night ‘creates bad habits’.
During the day sleeping when the baby sleeps and having a nap together is sweet and cute, but sleeping with your baby at night ‘creates dependence, how will they ever learn to sleep on their own?’. And I wonder why has this thinking become so normal?
I mean shit, just typing this I can’t help but think how stupid it is. Why should the time of the day or night make any difference at all to how we respond to our babies?
We need to talk more about night time parenting and how our babies don’t care what the time is, they don’t stop needing us.
That they are not trying to manipulate us, that they are not testing us. They are way too young for emotions that complex.
We need to share the concept that picking up a crying baby at night is not ‘giving in’. There is no bloody battle being waged here. You do not win or loose. You parent.
The more we understand that our babies need us just as much during the night as they do during the day, the less we worry about good sleep and bad sleep, good habits and bad habits, and the more we just roll with whatever stage our babies are currently in.
I talk a lot about Ziggy and his sleeping habits.
I share because I want other mums out there to understand that there are many variations of normal.
I share because I am sick of seeing so many blogs about sleep training and cry it out and I want to show another side to it.
I share because I want to open dialogue around all the differences in sleep.
Some babies sleep for six hours a night. Some babies sleep for two. Some babies wake up once a night, some babies wake up seven times a night. Some don’t wake at all. Some babies go to sleep with a bottle and a bum pat. Some need rocking and shhhing. Some need boobing. Some need swaddling. Some will happily sleep in a cot, others will happily sleep in a carrier. Some need to sleep right up in their mum’s armpit with a nipple in their mouth.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to babies and sleep, and so I share.
Night time parenting is hard. Exhausting.
It’s a horrible thing exhaustion. It strips you down and makes you vulnerable. And as a vulnerable parent I find my fuse is is shorter, my patience thinner. Tears come easily as do frustrations.
It can be so lonely. You can’t turn up at a girlfriends for tea and cake at 2am. You can’t call your mum and vent. The world is sleeping and you’re not. You feel so alone.
But you’re not alone. There are so many other mums who are right where you are, who are tired and frustrated and fluffing their blankets and muttering fuck it fuck it just fucking go to sleep under their breath.
I also share because night time parenting is rewarding. So rewarding. And too often the focus on the nights is all about the negative.
The time we have with Ziggy as we get ready for bed in the evening is precious. His shriek of excitement as we turn off the lounge light and head down the hallway to ‘beddies’. He comes into the bathroom with us to brush our teeth (we brush, he chews), and plays in the bed between us as we try to read.
Some nights he is asleep after one boob and AJ and I get to have some time together. Other nights it takes longer.
When he stirs in his sleep, and then throws an arm over me, takes a deep breath and goes back to sleep, well I wouldn’t change those moments for the world.
As I write this Ziggy is a few weeks away from being one.
We accepted almost a year ago that our nights were no longer our own. That we had a little person who was going to share them with us. And instead of fighting it, we’ve embraced it in all it’s shit and glory. Ziggy feeds to sleep every night. He sleeps in our bed. He wakes every two or three hours during the night. Some nights are challenging. But not all of them.
As he gets older, more and more nights are just fine. Yes, I’d love, love, love to sleep for a magical six or seven hours in a row. But Ziggy doesn’t understand this. He has needs, and he trusts us to meet those needs regardless of the time on a clock face.
I hate the idea thrown out there by ”sleep experts’ and ‘baby whisperers’ to tired and struggling parents that sleep is a battle to be fought.
The trotted out line ‘if their needs are met, just let them cry’. That babies are ‘good sleepers’ and ‘bad sleepers’.
I hate this clinical checklist of full belly/warm clothes/clean nappy, and if you’ve done all that what do they have to complain about. The assumption that our children don’t need us during the night like they need us during the day.
I hate that is seems the pinnacle of parenting awesomeness is an independent baby that sleeps through the night.
I think the pinnacle of parenting awesomeness is a happy, loved baby.
Babies are not just ‘awake or asleep’ beings. They are people. The have feelings and emotions and likes and dislikes.
Ziggy is much more than just how he sleeps. He is not a good baby or a bad baby. He is a curious baby. He is a loving baby. He feeds his chooks and plays with the cats. He loves cuddles and beeps on his nose. He has a cheeky grin. He likes having no nappy on and crawling around the back yard. He thinks dirt tastes great.
On those challenging nights when Ziggy is restless, when he is grizzly and sleep evades us, he is not a bad baby. He is not manipulating me.
We can tick the checklist they put out that says as long as he is full and warm and his clothes are clean that we can leave him to settle. But my baby is not a survey, and a checklist is as fucking useless as people telling me he is a bad sleeper.
And so I hold him and I cuddle him and I stroke his back. I have not ‘given in’. I have not ‘caved’. I don’t clock out because the sun has gone down. I am tired yes, I want to sleep, yes, but I am his mum.
I do not believe I can spoil my child with love. I do not believe I can hold him too much, or cuddle him for too long. When he is grown and he no longer needs me to stroke his back as he sinks into sleep, I will not remember these nights for how tired I was.
I will remember how small and soft he felt in my arms. How sweet he smelled. How my heart melted as he finally closed his eyes and drifted off.
Parenting is a 24 hour job. It doesn’t start at 8am and finish at 5pm.
Ziggy needs me when he jams his finger and cries at 3pm and he needs me just as much when he wakes up and cries at 3am.
Realising this has made it easier for me to roll with the nights, however they may go. This parenting gig is the hardest job I’ve ever had. But the pay is worth it.
The next time someone asks for help or advice regarding their babies sleeping habits, I am going to do better.
I am going to put on my big girl pants and give that mum the best support I can. I will not stay quiet.